Martin Luther on Prayer

In a letter to his barber, Martin Luther recommends that Christians pray the Ten Commandments, Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer.  Yet beyond reciting these traditional texts, he suggests that after each line or phrase of these texts we meditate upon them in a “four-fold garland” method of praying:

  • Instruction: seek what these words have to teach you;
  • Thanksgiving: give thanks for these words and the goodness of God conveyed through them;
  • Confession: humbly confess to God your failure to live up to or accept these words;
  • Prayer: pray for help and strength to embrace these words.
– See A Simple Way to Pray in Luther’s Works, vol. 43, pg. 200

In his Small Catechism, designed as a family devotional and instructional booklet, Martin Luther gives a simple order of prayer for morning and evening, consisting of invoking God's Trinitarian name, a recitation of the Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer, and a prayer for morning or evening.

These methods of prayer – the "fourfold garland" and the simple order from the catechism – are wonderful in their simplicity, based on texts that are familiar and easily memorized.  Simplicity is very important for popular prayer practices, as most Christians are not going to consult liturgical books to follow a form of personal daily prayer that was developed in monastaries and intended to be used as corporate prayer.  Yet any prayer that uses any of these texts (Ten Commandments, Apostles' Creed, Lord's Prayer) is deeply connected to the faith communities that use these texts on daily and weekly intervals.

The following order of prayer is based on Luther’s order in the Small Catechism, with slight modification to include a recitation of the Ten Commandments (as Luther recommends in A Simple Way to Pray, and elsewhere), and an opportunity to read Scripture.  Used together with Luther's "fourfold garland" method, this order provides a simple yet powerful pattern for daily prayer.

The Morning and Evening Blessing
Under the care of God the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The Ten Commandments

  1. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of bondage.  You shall have no other gods but me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself any idol.
  3. You shall not invoke with malice the Name of the Lord your God.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not commit murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not be a false witness.
  10. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.

The Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
    creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
    who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
    born of the virgin Mary,
    suffered under Pontius Pilate,
    was crucified, died, and was buried;
    he descended to the dead.
    On the third day he rose again;
    he ascended into heaven,
    he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
    and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
    the holy catholic church,
    the communion of saints,
    the forgiveness of sins,
    the resurrection of the body,
    and the life everlasting. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name,
    your kingdom come,
    your will be done,
        on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
    as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
    and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
    and the glory are yours
    now and for ever. Amen.

Scripture may be read.

Prayers for the church, the world, those in need, may be offered, concluding with the appropriate prayer:

For Mornings
We give thanks to you, heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your dear Son, that you have protected us through the night from all harm and danger. We ask that you would also protect us today from sin and all evil, so that our life and actions may please you. Into your hands we commend ourselves: our bodies, our souls, and all that is ours. Let your holy angels be with us, so that the wicked foe may have no power over us.  Amen.

For Evenings
We give thanks to you, heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your dear Son, that you have graciously protected us today. We ask you to forgive us all our sins, where we have done wrong, and graciously to protect us tonight. Into your hands we commend ourselves: our bodies, our souls, and all that is ours. Let your holy angels be with us, so that the wicked foe may have no power over us.  Amen.

You may conclude with a hymn or another form that would serve your devotion.

The translation for the Ten Commandments comes from the Book of Common Prayer, Holy Eucharist, Rite Two, where the decalogue is sometimes said immediately prior to the confession of sins.  Each commandment can be followed by a response, such as "Amen. Lord have mercy," (from BCP Rite Two) or "Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law" (from BCP Rite One).

English translations of The Apostles Creed and The Lord's Prayer (c) 1998 English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC).  Used by permission.

Translations of the morning and evening prayers, written by Martin Luther and found in his Small Catechism, are from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, pew edition, pgs. 305, 318.

Liturgy, Copyrights, and the Internet, revisited

Two years ago I was denied permission to publish an edited version of Responsive Prayer from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW) on my blog, and was forced to take down the order of prayer that I had been posting for several months (see past post, Daily Prayer Permission Denied – note that some links in that two year-old post are now broken). 

I chose to use Responsive Prayer, with slight amending, because that order of prayer largely follows Martin Luther's instructions for morning and evening blessing in the Small Catechism.  I amended that order to include a recitation of the Ten Commandments, in order to conform to Luther's instructions in the Large Catechism drill oneself in the catechism daily (an instruction echoed elsewhere, including in his letter to Peter the barber, A Simple Way to Pray). The form I used for the Ten Commandments came from the Book of Common Prayer, which has no copyright protections and thus is free for any to use and publish online.  The order that I posted at the time included attributions and links to sources.

Recently I wrote back to Augsburg Fortress Publishers, who administers the copyright for the materials in ELW (copyright is actually held by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, however), asking them under which circumstances liturgical material from ELW could be published online.

Are there any circumstances under which the text of a liturgy (not the music) from ELW could be posted online, such as Responsive Prayer or Morning Prayer?  To what extent can collects or litanies be posted online (with attribution, of course)?  Would it make a difference if these texts were posted on a personal blog or on a congregational website?  We have such liturgical riches, and it is a shame that they stay under copyrighted lock and key rather than be freely shared via Facebook, email and blogs in a congregation's ministry.

I received a quick response, saying that my questions have been forwarded to their worship team for discussion.  So, we'll see, I guess.

However, there are some things I can post online, thanks to the less restrictive copyrights of the daily lectionary (held by the Consultation on Common Texts) and the copyright-free material found within the Book of Common Prayer.  In the coming week or so I will repost an order of prayer, based on Luther's instructions, and including readings from the daily lectionary and liturgical texts borrowed from the Book of Common Prayer.